Socialist Worker

Higher education needs change after coronavirus crisis

by Sadie Robinson
Issue No. 2700

Marching in London during the UCU strikes earlier in 2020

Marching in London during the UCU strikes earlier in 2020 (Pic: Guy Smallman)


Activists the UCU union have launched an open letter calling on big changes in higher education in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

The letter, backed by the UCU Left group, calls for an end to market competition in universities and for tuition fees to be scrapped.

It calls coronavirus “a wake-up call for the whole of society” that also poses an “existential financial crisis” for higher education.

Government policy had already caused chaos in universities. But the coronavirus “changes the economic equation”.

“Universities can expect a sharp fall in total student numbers in September,” says the open letter. “It may be several years before the overseas student market recovers. “Drastic action is required to save higher education. Unless the government acts now, the UK will see mass redundancies of university staff.”

The letter demands emergency measures to stop universities going bankrupt. It calls for an end to fees, underwriting of the higher education sector and a pledge that there should be no redundancies.

Sign the letter here

Resist attacks at Stanmore College

Bosses at a London college have told workers their hours might be slashed to zero—and that they don’t know if jobs could be furloughed.

The UCU union said “callous” Stanmore College failed to properly investigate whether it could use the government’s job protection scheme.

An email to staff on 31 March read, “This letter is to formally notify you that your hours as a Variable Hour Lecturer/Assessor/ Support/Temporary staff at Stanmore College MAY temporarily be reduced to zero hours as a result of the ongoing pandemic.

“I am, therefore, writing to give you a two week notice of a change to your contract with Stanmore College.

The effective date will be 10 April 2020.” It claimed bosses had “explored options to avoid this action” including the job retention scheme “but it is unclear as to whether we can claim this for Variable Hour Lecturers”.

The plans would leave some workers with no income at a time when it is very hard to find alternative work. UCU general secretary Jo Grady called on bosses to halt the plans.


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